Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Heavenly King - מלך השמים

Av_a Jerusalem Forward blog

The text is adapted to this feast of Shavuot/Pentecost 2008/shmittah 5768 and based on a long process of teachings and lectures given about the connection that should exist between the Giving of the Holy Spirit on Shavuot Day as in accordance with the Jewish tradition and the essential role of the Torah she-be-al-peh\תורה שבעל פה or Mishna, Genara and Talmud as a whole that remains unclosed for the Jewish tradition. Thus a possible parallel creating actor in the Two Ways.

Greek: "Vasilieu Ouranie"
Hebrew: "Melekh HaShamayim"
Slavonic: "Tzariu Nebesnyi"

We have shown that the principle of preexistence of the Messiah is deeply enrooted in the Jewish traditions as mentioned in Talmud Tractates Nedarim 39B and Pessahim 54a. Therefore, according to this tradition, the Shem HaMashiah [Name of the Messiah] is present and still assists the inception of the world, time and space. Thus Jesus Christ declares: "Before Abraham was, I am" [John 8:58]. In the Creed of the Church, we proclaim: "He sits at the right hand of the Father", conforming this specific Presence of the Messiah very closely to the Creator.

The eighth chapter of the Book of Proverbs also refers to a very similar concept of the prexistence of the "Hokhmah", God's Wisdom. The Book of Ben Sirakh or Siracide, written in Greek and not included among the canonical Books of the Hebrew Bible [though considered with much respect today], insists on the roll of the initial Wisdom and predetermines the Trinitarian revelation.

Each Byzantine service begins with numerous prayers calling to the Holy Trinity and to the power of the Holy Spirit, defining the interactivity between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Monarchy of the Father is displaying in the Divine Person of the Only-Begotten Son and the sheltering Presence of the Holy Spirit. It appears to be a permanent misunderstanding that the faithful as well as the clergy separate the different Persons of the Holy Trinity. We do have to call upon the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but He directed all his deeds and prayers to the Heavenly Father to whom He refers at all times: "But of that day and hour [of fulfillment] knows no man, no, not the angels in heaven, but my Father, only" [Matthew 24:36].

In Hebrew and Aramaic the words Shekhinah/Shekina/'Shekinta' are very present as also in the interpretative versions of the TaNaKH [Bible, Five Books of Moses], i.e. the Targumim [interpretative translations] and the Aramaic versions of the Holy Scriptures which were more understandable to the faithful by the time of the exile in Babylon.

Moreover, another Aramaic word is used to refer to the Divine Essence, to God as the Inceptor and Creator: "Memra yeqara": "Precious Word". This is a rule in normal Jewish Communities to read the pericope of the Week in Hebrew, then in Aramaic according to the translation made by the proselyte Onkelos [thus a non-Jew] and only to read it in the local vernacular tongue at the end of all these readings. The Sages said that the translation made by Onkelos the Proselyte is of great importance for the understanding of the Sacred Texts. It should be noted that the Evangelist Luke was also a proselyte whose aim was to "translate or report without betraying the meaning of the words and the described context", constantly appealing to the Divine Essence. The interpretative "Memra" [Word of God] is to be compared to the "Logos" [Substantial Verb of God] and explains the Unique character of the Holy Trinity as well as the Shekhinah. This aspect has been studied by Franz Rosenzweig in his book "The Star of Redemption/ Stern der Erloesung" and in some way by Martin Buber in their common translation of the Torah into Modern German just before World War II.

We read in the Book of Numbers 14:42: "Go not up, because the Lord is not among you [beqirbekhem]". The Onkelos Targum uses the word "Shekhinah" to the Name of God as also in Numbers 14:14: "For they have heard that you Lord are among this people". This example is interesting because when, during the Divine Liturgy according to the Byzantine tradition the clergy kiss each other as a sign of Jesus, they say: "Christ is amidst us" and the answer is "He is and will be". The well-known Professor of Christian theology at the Hebrew University, the late David Flusser does not think that these words have really the same meaning as shown in Saint Matthew 18:20. He considers that Jesus could not have said the words "amidst them/ you", but that the only mention that the disciples are "gathered in My Name" includes the two Hebraic concepts expressed as "leShmi" [toward My Name, for the sake of My Name], which definitely implies to be gathered in the Name of God or His Messiah/Christ. These remarks are important since they show how the Shekhinah gathers in a similar way God the father, the Only-begotten Son[Israel according to Isaiah 4:22; the Messiah if considering the Christian theology] and all human beings which are given a breath of life. Thus, the Word of God creates mansions "amidst us" because he is present "within our heart", i.e. "in the core of the Church.

This allows a better understanding of the Semitic aspect of the liturgy and the Presence of the Shekhinah [Light, God, Messiah] and of words like "qerev" [core, heart, centre], connected with the root "qarov" [neighbour, relative] and "qorban" [offering] which generated in Syriac "qurbono/qurbana" specifically referring to the Sacrifice of the Eucharist.

The Greek version of the Septuagint which is the essential reference for most writers of the Gospel, uses a specific Greek verb "skiazo" [to (make) shadow] such as in 2 Samuel 20:6; the Hebrew word "natzal" [to be in the shadow] is rendered by the Greek "skiasei" [to cover, overshadow, abide]. The expression "lehatzil lo" [to deliver him] in Genesis 4:6 is translated into Greek as "tou skiazein auto" [in order to put him into the shadow]. In this particular case, "Shakhan" [to dwell] is connected with the Hebrew root "sakhakh" [to cover] relating to the Shekhinah, cf. the Feast of the Booths ["Sukkah", in Aramaic: "metalela lmetalleta"], in which abide all the righteous of the history of salvation. In the Septuagint, "episkiazo" is used three times to translate the Hebrew verb "sakhakh [to cover]: Psalm 91:4; 140:8; Proverbs 18:11, linked to the Hebrew root S-KH: "imagine, conceive" and once for "shakhan" [to come and dwell in the right place]. Then, we might have to consider seriously the possibility that "Shekhinah" is dealing with an "overshadowing process" and it should be noted that this 'inhabition" is stated in three essential moments showing the effective Presence of God: in Saint Luke 1:35 [Annunciation], in Saint Matthew 17:5; Saint Mark 9:7; Saint Luke 9:34 [during the Transfiguration when the disciples are overshadowed by this Shekhinah and Divine Presence and in the Acts of the Apostles 5:15 [Saint Peter overshadowing a disabled man].

If we accept to take into account the rabbinical tradition, the Shekhinah is a Light, Feminime Presence of God and constantly overshadows the House of Israel and all human beings, nations, groups, in particular those who are not Jewish [cf. the Acts of the Apostles 15]. The Shekhinah is active with the sick [Shabbat 12b], strengthens the marital ties [Sota 17a, cf. the ritual of coronation during the Byzantine wedding]. She refreshes those whose heart is angry or alien [Berakhot 43b] and assists those who sin in secret [Hagigah 16a]. She takes away the sorrow of those who are in pain or suffer of some slander [Shabbat 30b; Sota 42a]. Therefore Rabbi Akiva said that the conjunction to "dwell seven days in the booths" [Leviticus 23:42] also applies to the revelation of God's Reign and of His Presence in every place. Targum Onkelos uses the Aramaic word "metallalta" for "sukkot" as an image of a wedding canopy or a cloud [Targum Yerushalmi].

The prophecy of Isaiah 4:5: "And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day". Rabbi Akiva also considered the proselytes as "dwelling under the wings of the Shekhinah". This is what Saint Peter understood when he recognized that the Holy Spirit had enlightened Cornelios, "a righteous man, full of fear in the face of God [a proselyte]" [Acts of the Apostles 10:17-33].

One of the most ancient Christian prayers is "Heavenly King" which is daily recited by the Orthodox and Eastern rite believers and has been recently adopted by some other Christian groups in the West. It is not uttered during the time between Ascenson Day and the eve of the Pentecostal Feast, because the Church is willing to point out the importance of the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere present and fillest all things. O Treasury of every good and Bestower of life: COME AND DWELL IN US, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.

Vasileu ouranie, Paraklite, to Pneuma tis Alitias, Ho Panakhou paron ke ta panta pliron, Ho Thisauros ton agathon ke Zois Khorigos, ELTH KE SKIVOSON EN IMIN ke katharison imas apo pasis kilithos ke soson, Agathe, tas psykhas imon.

It should be noted that this core prayer of the Christian oriental Tradition is profoundly enrooted in a Semitic way of thinking and includes Talmudic aspects which we already mentioned.

THE ESSENTIAL ROYALTY OF GOD, Which is Light and infuses the Holy Spirit or the Shekhinah; the Comforter or Protector, Advocate, Assistant to the sick. The Divine Truth, the Holy Spirit is present everywhere and overshadows/covers all things, i.e. the entire Universe, in its cosmic and earthly fulfillment, considering both historical and metahistorical events. This is the core of the Feast of Sukkot and of the "shadowing of the Divine Glory", the Shekhinah, Whose wings cover all beings and shelter them.

LET THE SPIRIT COME: this is evidently an analogical point with the second demand of the Prayer of the Lord. Moreover, the words: "Let Your Kingdom come" [in Aramaic: "Tethe Malkhutakh"] insist on the indivisible unity deeply expressed in the Hebrew tradition of the Shekhinah, Light and Spirit of God and His/Her Royalty over the whole world.

In the Book of the Apocalypsis 22:17 Jesus says: "And the Spirit and the bride [= the Church] say, Come", which is very similar to the Feast of the Booths which is referred to as the Feast and a Day of full Joy as shown in the Gospel of Saint John 7:37-39; "In the last day, that great day of the Feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink. He that believes on me, as the Scripture has said out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified".

The Aramaic liturgical expression [cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22; Philippians 4:5; Isaiah 55:1] is repeated in two different ways: "Maran ata" [The Master/Lord comes/will come] and Marana ta'" [The Master/Lord arrives]. The Ashkenaze hymn or "piyut" written in Aramaic "Aqdamut milin" [At the beginning of all words] is recited during the Feast of Shavuot [Pentecost], and every verse ends with a "-ta", a supplication for the imminent coming of the Lord.

THE HOLY SPIRIT MAKES ITS RESIDENCE IN US: The Byzantine prayer includes the words of the Septuagint, linked to the various quotations relating to the dynamic and sprinkling action of the Shekhinah. The Jewish Morning Service of Shaharit shows this steadfast conviction of the faithful:

"Modeh ani, I give You thanks, Living and Life-giving King [Melekh Khay veQayam], Source of eternal life, because, in Your grace, You restore my soul in me according to Your fidelity".

Monday, June 9, 2008

בת קול - The voice of the Presence

We are on Shabbat Naso in which is read the longest reading portion in the Book of Bemidbar/Numbers 4:21-7:89. It deals with the laws governing the service inside the Tent of the Meeting, also the status of “nazir – nazarite” (who goes away or aside from the society, abstains from drinking wine. He gets God’s crown on his head and a total spirit of freedom. This has always been a major life choice in Judaism, but too often confronted with Christian monastics views as lifeless. R. Shimon bar Yochai was a nazirite – so? Longhair down to thighs – eyes of burning interiority or hippy-yuppie tripping to some isolated mount (Bhutan as Phuket island in Thailand are en vogue). Eastern Orthodox monks have the same look while, in the West, shaven skulls are humbly “clean-cut”. Jewish ancient nazarites as Christian monks are called to control their desires and thus be free – also from counting and polishing their hair constantly.

Firstly, there is the verse of Bemidbar/Numbers 6:22-27 called the “Birkat Kohanim\ברכת כהנים – Priestly Blessing”. The blessing is recited daily and has been throughout the age in most peculiar places of the world. This year, we want to climb up the Temple Mount. Then we must be aware that this blessing is the last priestly and sacrificial act perpetually performed by the Jews and inherited from the Temple Service. It implicitly extends God’s blessing to all the Nations and the kohanim are totally overshadowed by their prayer-shawls, they separate their fingers to let the Shekhinah\שכינה come through and reach out to the people. Chosen? Yes, but not for ourselves. Someway, spirituality always stumbles between low-profiled humility and high-tech arrogance.

Luther had translated with a rare exactitude the Massoretic verse of Num. 7:89: “Moses…would hear the Voice “spoken him - meddaber elav\מדבר עליו –redend zu sich” from above the cover (kaporet\כפורת) of the Tent”. This is a grammatical quiz that is very intriguing. R. Leibowitz traces back to Maimonides as to Rashi. “meddaber” is a reflexive “mitdaber, shortened into meddaber”. It means that God was speaking to Himself when meeting with Moses. This is the quiz, a permanent quiz. Everything comes from Him and returns to Him (cf. John 13:3). Mishley\משלי Proverbs16:4 stated likewise that “God makes everything for Himself”. Thus, it means that from Moses to us and ahead of us God only discusses with Himself and shares what humans are able to understand, cope with, deny at times or rediscover fortuitously.

This Saturday-Sunday, all the Christian Churches will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and the Spreading of the Holy Spirit. One of the very interesting decisions taken by the Roman Catholic Church during the Second Council of Vatican (1965) was to reintroduce, as a consequence of common studies and dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, various prayers to the Holy Spirit during the liturgies. Oriental Churches have always been very Spirit-oriented as the “Ruah Elokim merachefet, the Spirit of God was sweeping as the eagle over the water” (Gen. 1:2). Pentecost is Greek for Arabic Hamsin (sounds like sharav!) = 50. It seems to be confusing for some Jews abroad. The Russians call the Feast “Most Holy Troytza\Пресвятая Троица” which underscores the very complex definition of the Trinity vs. One God. Monday is more specifically the “Day of the Holy Spirit”.

Somehow, Shavuot and Pentecost, in multifaceted ways in the Jewish and Christian traditions, point out that we are reinvigorated by God’s Gifts Who blows into our nostrils the soul of warmth and comfort. Maybe we get to human and spiritual warmth, eh like good pastries, look around and have a question: “Can we tame each other?”

There cannot be any debt in the face of the Giving of the Torah (Written and Oral). No pretence. No claims to be first or last. There is the silence that as people were grilling up their jewels in the desert to shape a new deity, God pardoned them. But when it happens, we suddenly rush to the archives. Archives are the past. They explain the past, they may not show any evidence of what the future will be. In all former communist countries, all sorts of spiritual and Church groups helped the local Church. In response, most post-communist Churches dig out here and there contract and bills and properties and holes, ecavations or some cave with villas... The Holy Land is spending the Releasing year of the שמיטה releasing and resting of land year like planning some Manhattan futurist sharing of goods.

In that sense, the Ten Paroles\דברות should remind us that God unexpectedly acts in such a human context. It is important that humane projects could be revised and corrected by the One Who created the world and brought out of serfdom.

Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

June 9, 2008 – 6 deSivan 5768